Sunday, February 28, 2010

Black Night of Ben White

The notorious Jew-hater Ben White is going to be at Columbia University giving a talk on Tuesday at 7.30pm for Israel Apartheid week. Let's mobilize a group of protesters/hecklers, like the Muslims do when someone righteous is speaking.

White is the archetype of the modern day proud Nazi. One need only close one's eyes to see him sitting at the table at Wansee, feebly attempting to hide his arousal at the declaration of the final solution. Ah, yes. White will right the wrong of history!

White is antisemitic scum, and should be held accountable for his Jew-hatred and incitement to hate and violence against Jews.

Columbia University holds these would-be annihilationists in high regard (but cancels Nonie Darwish). Meanwhile, asshat Jews keep donating money (for Jewish bloodshed) to these morally ill hotbeds of indoctrination.

Event: Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide [to Jewish genocide]
Ben White, Author and Freelance Journalist
Anjali Kamat, Democracy Now!

Date/Time: Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 at 7:30pm

Location: 420 West 118th street, NY, NY 10027, Room 417 Altschul Auditorium

Sponsoring Organizations: Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (C-SJP), ASA, TURATH, ISO, CCAW, SDS, Adalah-NY, Codepink, and others

Where are the Jewish day schools? They should be out in full force targeting these hate sponsors.

The indispensable Cif Watch has the lowdown on Ben White here.

Ben White is a freelance writer and journalist and author of “Justice is Mission” and “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide” who now lives in the UK. White writes extensively about what he terms “Palestine/Israel” to the point of near obsession and is a regular contributor to ‘Comment is Free’ and the virulently anti-Israel ‘Electronic Intifada’.

An open supporter of the one-state solution, White regularly accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, attributes the malicious slurs of colonisation, racism and apartheid to Israel, acts as an apologist for Islamist violence against the Jewish state, draws parallels between Nazi Germany and Zionism, has a problem with the police arresting those involved in plots to bomb synagogues, and has even gone as far as to flirt with Holocaust denial, or more accurately Holocaust revisionism.

In an article entitled Is It ‘Possible’ to Understand the Rise in ‘Anti-Semitism’?, White stated that “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are”. This after linking the rise of antisemitism with “the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media”. As astutely observed by Seismic Shock, “White here jumps straight into transitional bog-standard antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion language”.

Previously, White was embroiled in a controversy which began following his scathing review on Fulcrum of Patrick Sookhdeo’s book “Global Jihad”. In a strange twist of events, White apparently contacted a radical Muslim blogger named “Indigo Jo” to tip him off about Sookdheo’s book, whom Indigo Jo lovingly refers to as “Sookhdevil”. Subsequently, Indigo Jo’s attack on Sookhdeo was reproduced on other Islamist websites resulting in Sookhdeo receiving a death threat. See here and here and for White’s version of the events here.

White has recently been the subject of further controversy with the release of his book “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”. In a thorough review of the book entitled Lies, Damn Lies and the Apartheid Analogy, Jonathan Hoffman took White to task for writing a book about the Apartheid analogy lie. White feebly responded to Hoffman’s excellent expose to which Hoffman counter-responded further exposing the spurious nature of White’s writings.

Even more recently White, in an attempt to distance himself from his articles defending Ahmedinijad’s Holocaust denial and “understanding” antisemitism, stated “[b]ased on short extracts, or even a single sentence, from two out of the 100 plus articles I’ve published, I have been accused of ‘understanding anti-semitism’ and ‘defending’ Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.” While both Seismic Shock and Modernity point out the inconsistency and disingenousness in White’s “explanation”, we’ll just let Ben White speak for himself from the numerous other articles that he wrote.

Below is a selection of statements made by Ben White “in his own words”:

“There is, in fact, already a de facto “one state”, albeit one of apartheid control that assigns particular rights to different groups of people. An Israeli who lives in Tel Aviv detects no great difference should he or she drive to the illegal Israeli colony of Ariel for example, inside the West Bank. There is a greater Israeli military presence, but there is no sense that one is crossing a frontier or going anywhere other than to a continuation of Israeli territory.” Obama Needs to Tell it Like it is, June 2, 2009

“Thus to engage Hamas is to acknowledge that the movement is not integral to the conflict, but neither is it peripheral nor ignorable. It has grown into a powerful social and political force, with a tendency toward prioritizing the pragmatism of political power. The oft-cited Charter – rightly condemned as anti-Semitic, but penned in 1988 by one person – has become increasingly insignificant; the discourse of ceasefires, truces, and national liberation typically trumps inflexible religious doctrine.” What it means to talk with Hamas Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 2009

“In fact, the Palestinians have indeed long been practitioners of civil disobedience, from the Revolt in 1936, to the First Intifada in the late 1980s, and right up to the present day. Palestinians are, in fact, proud of their tradition of nonviolent resistance.

Tellingly, Israel has responded to nonviolent resistance with dismissive repression – after all, it’s the resistance itself that’s the problem, not its violent/nonviolent nature. Israel has deported those who led nonviolence movements, besieged and assaulted entire villages to – in the words of famous ‘dove’ Yitzhak Rabin – “teach them there is a price for refusing the laws of Israel”, and met nonviolent demonstrations with lethal force.” What about the Palestinian right to self-defence? Liberal Conspiracy, February 10, 2009

“Finally, interwoven with the idea of a Jewish “return” and a denial of relevant international law is a deep anti-Arab racism. This year is the fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Hebron settlement Kiryat Arba, a religious colony that is notorious for graffiti like “Death to the Arabs” or “Arabs to the gas chambers.”” An American President and the outposts of Zion Electronic Intifada, January 9, 2008

“Many Jews fleeing Europe did not go as colonists but they certainly arrived as ones, their plight a gift to the Zionist leadership who had long been seeking to create a Jewish majority state in Palestine. Anti-Jewish persecution certainly helps to explain how Zionism emerged, but hardly justifies the treatment meted out to Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants. Pity the Palestinians, who, in the name of a ‘social-democratic experiment’, had to endure massacres, death-marches, and ethnic cleansing.” Boycott: the backlash Palestine News, Autumn/Winter 2007

“To say that the “one-state solution” is impractical or equals the “destruction” of Israel is poorly concealed code for defending the indefensible and a recipe for continual conflict in a land it is impossible to partition. It is to maintain, against the odds, the Zionist fiction that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land. It is to entertain the fantasy that the occupied territories so comprehensively colonized by Israel can become a “Palestinian state” which isn’t apartheid in name only.” The one-state reality Electronic Intifada, November 13, 2007

“The problem has never been a Palestinian failure to meet the demands set by the US or international community, a display of colonial arrogance that repeats itself in every successive “negotiation.” Popular struggle, like violent resistance, is not an end in and of itself; it is a method, a strategy. It is the end goal, decolonization and liberation from occupation and Zionist apartheid, that is ferociously opposed by the self-declared international guardians of the “peace process” and their friends in the Palestinian elite. The rest is just smoke and mirrors.” Nonviolence resistance, a means not the end Electronic Intifada, October 12, 2007

“‘Pure’ Zionism, that is Zionism at its theoretical roots that expressed itself at various moments in pre- and post-state history, differs from standard definitions of colonialism in that it seeks not the exploitation of the indigenous population but their removal or extermination.” Some uncomfortable questions Palestine Chronicle, January 29, 2007

“The second, highly publicized, remarks came in mid-December, when Ahmadinejad was reported as denying the Holocaust. The President’s remarks, as detailed on the official Iranian news agency website, did not actually denote a disbelief in the genocide perpetrated against the Jews during World War II.

Note also that the President said, “some have created a myth on holocaust”. While most people immediately equate a ‘myth’ with a fabricated fairy-tale, this is not necessarily the case. A quick consultation of dictionary definitions confirms that “many historians consider that myths can also be accounts of actual events that have become highly imbued with symbolic meaning.” (Wikipedia). The entry continues, “This process occurs in part because the events described become detached from their original context and new context is substituted, often through analogy with current or recent events”.

Even more relevantly, given the use of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism as a propaganda tool of Zionist apologists, historian Richard Slotkin has described the process whereby historical events become ‘myth’ thus:

Stories drawn from a society’s history that have acquired through persistent usage the power of symbolizing that society’s ideology and of dramatizing its moral consciousness- with all the complexities and contradictions that consciousness may contain.

This is extremely pertinent to the use of the Holocaust, not only in terms of the Western consciousness and relations with Israel, but also in relation to Israel’s national identity. The Holocaust comes to symbolize the intrinsic anti-Jewish racism of ‘Gentile’ societies, and therefore proving the need for a Jewish state. More disturbingly perhaps, the Holocaust acts as a standard for human depravity set so high, that any treatment of the Palestinians is justifiable, as long as it falls short of what was experienced by the Jews in Nazi Europe.” History, Myths, and All the News That’s Fit to Print January 11, 2006

“I was somewhat startled by this, since I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are. There are, in fact, a number of reasons. One is the state of Israel, its ideology of racial supremacy and its subsequent crimes committed against the Palestinians. It is because Zionists have always sought to equate their colonial project with Judaism that some misguidedly respond to what they see on their televisions with attacks on Jews or Jewish property.

Secondly, and related to the first point, is the widespread bias and subservience to the Israeli cause in the Western media. Once again, due to the (theologically false) mergence of Zionism with Judaism, unconditional support for the state of Israel in the media can lead some to misguidedly respond with charges of a ‘Jewish conspiracy’. Thirdly, European culture has a history of anti-Semitism (as it has also been guilty of racism to other peoples) that has been, and probably still is, embedded in collective consciousness. Its roots can be traced, at least to some extent, to the shameful teachings of many in the Church.” Is It ‘Possible’ to Understand the Rise in ‘Anti-Semitism’? Counterpunch June 18, 2002

Below is a selection of statements made by Ben White in ‘Comment is Free’ “in his own words”:

“In 1994, the then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said that “we have to decide on separation as a philosophy”. However, this is not separation on equal terms – the following year Rabin also made it clear that the Palestinian “entity” would be “less than a state”. There is a term for unequal separation in international law – apartheid (I will talk about this tonight). The wall urgently needs dismantling; but it is only one part of a bigger whole.” Israel’s wall still deepening the divide July 9, 2009

“Unfortunately, it is likely that the enormous disparity between the peace process and the facts on the ground in the occupied territories will live on in any new initiative. The Palestinian people continue to seek basic political and human rights, rather than gestures and Jericho casinos. The two-state solution may be the only game in town, but there is no evidence that Obama can – or wants to – prevent it being a slogan masking apartheid.” Peace in our time? May 9, 2009

“Hamas is not the beginning or the end of this conflict, a movement that has been around for just the last third of Israel’s 60 years. The Hamas Charter is not a Palestinian national manifesto, and nor is it even particularly central to today’s organisation. Before Hamas existed, Israel was colonising the occupied territories, and maintaining an ethnic exclusivist regime; if Hamas disappeared tomorrow, Israeli colonisation certainly would not.” The real Israel-Palestine story is in the West Bank February 20, 2009

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hummer Graveyard

Hummers get a bad rap. Yeah, they burn a lot of gas. So what? Cadillac Escalades, Chevy Suburbans and a lot of van-style vehicles burn gas at roughly the same rate as new Hummers. How far does a new Hummer go on a gallon of gas? About 16 miles.

The original Hummer, the H1, was a gas hog, drinking a gallon every ten miles. But Hummer sales were never high. And based on used-Hummer data, owners treated them like show-horses, taking them out only occasionally.

As the following article states, annual Hummer sales peaked a few years ago at 71,000 vehicles before slumping to 9,000 last year. Compare these figures with the size of the global fleet of cars -- 750 million. Furthermore, auto experts predict the global fleet will quadruple to 3 billion vehicles by the middle of this century. Even if most of those vehicles sip gas like a Prius, the aggregate consumption of gasoline will explode.

Meanwhile, the low sales figures and the limited use of these vehicles raises a question. How much gas has been burned by all Hummers? The answer: Not Much.

Based on profiles of used Hummers, it appears most owners drive them about 7,000 miles a year. Not much. Considering the small number of Hummers on the road, the aggregate gas consumption by these vehicles is insignificant.

Gas-guzzler goes after China sale fails

By PAUL THARP, February 25, 2010

The ultimate gas-guzzler has finally run out of gas.

General Motors yesterday said it will shut down manufacturing of the hulking Hummer brand for good after a year-long effort to sell its operations to a Chinese company collapsed.

China's Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Co. had agreed to pay $150 million to buy the brand, once popular among rap artists, but pulled out of the protracted talks after Beijing KO'd the plan.

China already has more than 80 domestic car manufacturers and imports numerous models from GM and other Western automakers.

After achieving cult-like status in the US -- four years ago GM sold 71,000 Hummers -- $4-a-gallon gas, combined with the recession, delivered lethal blows to a brand with vehicles that averaged just 10 miles per gallon. Last year, GM sold only 9,000 Hummers.

However, in China's urban areas, the Hummer brand remained sought after among the country's moneyed young entrepreneurs, who were infatuated with its huge size and muscular and militaristic styling.

"We are disappointed that the deal with Tengzhong could not be completed," said John Smith, GM vice president of corporate planning and alliances. Unless an eleventh-hour buyer emerges, the plug will be pulled on Feb. 28.

"GM will now work closely with Hummer employees, dealers and suppliers to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner." It said it will continue to honor existing Hummer warranties.

Originally built for the military, the hulking vehicle first went on sale to the public in 1999. The H1 model, which was popularized by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was priced at $140,000.

It was followed by lighter and less wasteful models, the H2 and the H3, which is the brand's most fuel-efficient vehicle at 16 miles per gallon.

A version of the Hummer is still made for the military. It is manufactured by AM General, which isn't involved with GM.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota's Foot on Gas Disease

Why not? Blame it on the gas pedal. As though it had a mind of its own and decided to seize control of the vehicle. Remarkably, none of the crazed accelerator pedals chose to cut off the flow of gas and slow the vehicle to a crawl. Nope. When it comes to nutty throttles, it's always Pedal to the Metal.

'My Sudden Acceleration Nightmare'

Reading the mind of Akio Toyoda as he faces Washington's grand inquistors. By HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR.

Secret National Security Agency transcript of CEO Akio Toyoda's inner monologue as he prepares to testify in today's congressional hearing into the Toyota recall crisis:

Oh what a feeling. I wonder what Hank Paulson does for the dry heaves?

How I envy Ford-san. At least the Firestone mess involved a real defect, a tire spec unsuitable for Americans accustomed to cruising all day in hot weather at 80 mph on underinflated tires.

Toyota is battling a "defect" it can't find and may not exist. Our crisis management has not been the best, but . . . oy vey.

I wouldn't be here if not for an accident fluky and bizarre even by unintended-acceleration standards. A San Diego Lexus dealer installed an unapproved and ill-fitting floor mat in a loaner car. The mat was placed in the car upside-down and wasn't fastened down. The dealer ignored a previous customer's complaint that the mat interfered with the gas pedal. The next borrower didn't or couldn't shift into neutral when the pedal jammed. Four people died in a horrible crash.

Before the accident, Toyota issued recalls and service bulletins related to floor mats. How is this not the dealer's fault? Not a single incident of runaway speeding has been traced to the sticky pedals Toyota subsequently recalled. No electronic defect has been found.

I should have listened to the Germans. They racked up billions of miles on their vehicle electronics before bringing them to lawyer-happy America. They installed a brake-override so a foot on the brake would always shut the throttle.

To think, if we had adopted the same kludge, our runaway-vehicle complaints would probably be in line with those of our competitors. It's the fix that fixes whether the problem is pedal blockage, electronic glitch or a driver's foot on gas and brake at the same time. The only problem it doesn't fix is a driver mistakenly stomping on the gas—the actual source of most unintended acceleration.

I wonder if Dr. Richard Restak is in his office today? Years ago, the George Washington University neurologist coined the term "neurobehaviorally impaired" for such drivers: "He or she acts too fast or not fast enough; steps on the accelerator when the intention is to put on the brake; slips the gear into reverse instead of forward; comes to a full stop when the sign merely indicates 'yield.' In all cases, the response is almost but not quite appropriate to the situation . . . [and] leaves a wake of dented fenders, sore necks and inflamed tempers."

Great quote, but I can't afford to blame our customers.

No such inhibitions trouble the National Transportation Safety Board (the folks who investigate plane crashes). Last fall, they issued a special report on four school-bus accidents and a fire-truck crash, fingering "pedal misapplication" in every case: "In all five, the drivers either reported a loss of braking or were observed by vehicle occupants to be unsuccessfully attempting to stop the vehicles, though no evidence of braking system failure was found." And these were professional drivers!

I wonder how many congressmen were around for the industry-wide crisis kicked off years ago by Audi. In 1987, the feds received 2,500 complaints of "unintended acceleration," more than in the previous 20 years combined. "The defect, which involves almost all makes of cars, causes them to accelerate without warning. . . . Sophisticated electronic controls are now believed to play a role in the problem," concluded the New York Times, citing (who else?) Clarence Ditlow, the trial lawyer handmaiden who will be testifying against me today.

Two years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its own exhaustive report on the post-Audi fury: "pedal misapplication."

Far be it from me to suggest a defect is never to blame—say, a poorly designed gas pedal and floor mat. But what a shocker that even our San Diego dealer now has hired a lawyer to float a theory that an electronic bug was behind a crash that every investigation has attributed to floor mats?

Trial lawyers love the electronic gremlin theory because it's impossible to disprove in any individual case. But we're here to talk about a pattern of cases. That's what Congressman Henry Waxman, who accuses Toyota and NHTSA of "resisting" evidence of an electronic fault, doesn't understand.

What can "resist" possibly mean in a context where only data and analysis can establish an answer? Eight of the 34 deaths the plaintiffs bar insists are due to runaway Toyotas are accounted for by just two crashes—the San Diego crash (floor mats) and a Texas crash in which an epileptic drove into a lake. What was the average age of drivers in the remaining unexplained (i.e., non-floor mat) incidents? What, if anything, did drivers have in common? Were they new to the vehicle?

Electronic bugs should occur at random. Here's guessing that once we and the feds agree on a database of incidents and examine them in detail, we'll be able to say conclusively whether there's a "trend" that indicates an electronic defect.

Of course, a competent investigator wouldn't pronounce without data—but who ever said Congress was a competent investigator?

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 22, 2010

Genius, Science and Youth

If we are going to produce cheap energy from sunlight, wind and the elements used in batteries, then we need to cultivate a crop of geniuses. Like hot-house plants, it takes the right setting to produce scientific brilliance.

Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity

The decline of successful young scientists could hurt innovation; tracking peak performance


When James Watson was 24 years old, he spent more time thinking about women than work, according to his memoir "Genes, Girls and Gamow." His hair was unkempt and his letters home were full of references to "wine-soaked lunches." But when Mr. Watson wasn't chasing after girls, he was hard at work in his Cambridge lab, trying to puzzle out the structure of DNA. In 1953, when Mr. Watson was only 25, he co-wrote one of the most important scientific papers of all time.

Scientific revolutions are often led by the youngest scientists. Isaac Newton was 23 when he began inventing calculus; Albert Einstein published several of his most important papers at the tender age of 26; Werner Heisenberg pioneered quantum mechanics in his mid-20s. At the time, these men were all inexperienced and immature, and yet they managed to transform their fields.

Youth and creativity have long been interwoven; as Samuel Johnson once said, "Youth is the time of enterprise and hope." Unburdened by old habits and prejudices, a mind in fresh bloom is poised to see the world anew and come up with fresh innovations—solutions to problems that have sometimes eluded others for ages.

When They Were Young

Five scientists who made their marks in their early years.


Some say he was in his 20s when he solved his famous "golden crown" problem in the bathtub, causing him to run naked in the streets yelling "Eureka!"


Galileo published his first piece of writing around age 22. He began his experiments on the speed of falling objects in his late 20s.

Marie Curie

The physicist was just turning 30 when she began investigating radioactivity. She won two Nobel Prizes before she turned 45.

William Lawrence Bragg

The Australian-born physicist is the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate. He won in 1915 at age 25 for his work on X-rays and crystal structure; he shared the prize with his father.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

The future director of the Manhattan Project made his first important discovery around the age of 23.

Such innovation could be at risk in modern science, as the number of successful young scientists dramatically shrinks.

In 1980, the largest share of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) went to scientists in their late 30s. By 2006 the curve had been shifted sharply to the right, with the highest proportion of grants going to scientists in their late 40s.

This shift came largely at the expense of America's youngest scientists. In 1980, researchers between the ages of 31 and 33 received nearly 10% of all grants; by 2006 they accounted for approximately 1%. And the trend shows no signs of abating: In 2007, the most recent year available, there were more grants to 70-year-old researchers than there were to researchers under the age of 30.

"This is definitely an issue we're concerned with," says Francis Collins, the 59-year-old director of the NIH. "One thing I've learned from being in science is that the researchers in the early stages of their careers tend to be the ones with the fire in the belly. They're not afraid of tackling the really hard problems." In recent years, the NIH has responded to this concern by increasing the percentage of its grants going to new investigators, or scientists applying for their first grant, from 25% to 30%.

According to the NIH, much of the shift reflects the aging of the baby boomer generation, which has increased the number of older faculty at major medical schools. Some critics, however, argue that the funding changes also reflect the conservatism of the NIH, as the agency increasingly favors less risky research. Mr. Collins says such criticism is mostly unwarranted.

The age distribution of NIH grants has significant implications for American science. It has become much harder for young scientists to establish their own labs. According to the latest survey from the National Science Foundation, only 26% of scientists hold a tenure-track academic position within six years of receiving their Ph.D.

The aging of science might also alter the productivity of the nation's labs. In recent years, psychologists have begun studying the relationship between age and creativity, trying to understand how increasing experience affects the way we think.

One theory suggests that creative output obeys a predictable pattern over time, which is best represented by an "inverted U curve." The shape of the curve captures the steep rise and slow fall of individual creativity, with performance peaking after a few years of work before it starts to decline in middle age. By the time scientists are eminent and well-funded—this tends to happen in the final years of their careers—they are probably long past their creative prime.

The inverted U curve was first documented by Adolphe Quetelet, a 19th-century French mathematician and sociologist. Mr. Quetelet's study was simple: He plotted the number of plays produced by French and English playwrights over the course of their life spans. He soon discovered that creativity had a sweet spot, which seemed to always occur between the ages of 25 and 50. (The data neatly confirmed Mr. Quetelet's own life story, as he was 39 when his magnum opus was published.)

Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, has spent the last several decades expanding on Mr. Quetelet's approach, sifting through vast amounts of historical data in search of underlying patterns. For instance, Mr. Simonton has shown that physicists tend to make their first important discovery in their late 20s, which is why it's a common joke within the field that if a physicist hasn't done Nobel-worthy work before getting married, then he or she might as well quit.

According to Mr. Simonton, the only field that peaks before physics is poetry.

Why are young physicists and poets more creative? Mr. Simonton argues that they benefit, at least in part, from their willingness to embrace novelty and surprise. Because they haven't become "encultured," or weighted down with too much conventional wisdom, they're more willing to rebel against the status quo. After a few years in the academy, however, "creators start to repeat themselves, so that it becomes more of the same-old, same-old," Mr. Simonton says.

This research has led some thinkers—such as the Stanford economist Paul Romer, who studies the role of new ideas in generating economic growth—to worry about the long-term implications of funding older scientists. "If we're not careful, we could let our institutions…slowly morph over time so that old guys control more and more of what's going on," Mr. Romer says in an interview in the book "From Poverty to Prosperity." "And the young people have a harder and harder time doing something really different, and that would be would be a bad thing for these processes of growth and change."

But Mr. Simonton and others point out that increasing innovation is not simply a matter of funding the youngest researchers. While physics, math and poetry have always been dominated by their most inexperienced practitioners, other disciplines seem to benefit from middle age. Mr. Simonton suggests that people working in fields such as biology, history, novel-writing and philosophy might not peak until their late 40s.

Interestingly, these differences in peak age appear to be cultural universals, with poets peaking before novelists in every major literary tradition, according to his research.

What accounts for these variations? Mr. Simonton suggests that they're caused by intrinsic features of the disciplines. Those fields with a logically consistent set of principles, such as physics and chess, tend to encourage youthful productivity, since it's relatively easy to acquire the necessary expertise. (The No. 1 ranked chess player in the world today, Magnus Carlsen, is 19 years old.) Because the essential facts can be quickly learned, and it usually doesn't take that long to write a lyric poem, the precocious student is free to begin innovating at an early age.

In contrast, fields that are loosely defined and full of ambiguous concepts, such as biology and history, lead to later peak productive ages. After all, before a researcher can invent a useful new idea, he or she must first learn an intimidating assortment of details.

The decline in creativity is far from inevitable, and many individuals have increased their creativity late in life by pursuing new intellectual challenges. The novelist Thomas Hardy became a full-time poet in his late 50s and wrote his greatest poem at the age of 61. The mathematician Paul Erdos was famous for hop-scotching around his discipline, and his productivity never flagged: He ended up co-writing nearly 1,500 scientific papers, making him one of the most prolific mathematicians of all time.

Of course, quantity isn't the only measure of creativity—and some argue that the more mature (in art, for example) do their best work later in their careers because they have greater wisdom and experience. The fall of the creative curve can be postponed.

Another possible factor in the decline of successful young scientists is the institutions and funding mechanisms that discourage the sort of risky research that produces major innovations. Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University who has studied the funding bodies that support the arts, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, notes that these institutions frequently become more risk-averse over time. "They become more beholden to special interests and fall under greater political scrutiny," he says. The end result is an increasing unwillingness to support projects that might fail. Mr. Cowen notes, for instance, that the NEA has gone from directly funding "whomever they wanted, with very little scrutiny"—this led to many success and scandals, such as the furor over Robert Mapplethorpe—to a recent focus on Shakespeare, classic jazz and the teaching of poetry in high school. While such programs are laudable, they're also unlikely to produce major cultural innovations.

In recent years, a number of organizations in the scientific community have tried to fill this void. In 2006, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute opened Janelia Farm, a scientific research campus near Ashburn, Va. The ambitious goal, as outlined in its mission statement, is to "offer creative scientists freedom from constraints that limit their ability to do groundbreaking research."

It fully funds all of its 250 resident scientists, which means that they don't have to apply for outside grants. Furthermore, the Farm explicitly targets scientists "at an early career stage," modeling itself after other successful research institutions, such as Bell Labs, which benefited from the exuberant creativity of inexperienced researchers.

It's not just non-profits that are borrowing elements from the Bell Labs playbook. 3M seeks out young researchers, fresh out of graduate school, for its prestigious Corporate Research Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn.

The scientists don't stay long. Larry Wendling, the vice president in charge of the lab, says his goal is to have 70% turnover every five years, with the older scientists migrating to other research positions in the company. "We encourage people to move because it keeps them excited," Mr. Wendling says. "It's a way of making sure they're always getting new challenges."

The Grand Challenges Explorations Program, established a few years ago by the Gates Foundation, dispenses grants in the field of global health. The goal of the program is to encourage more unorthodox research. Instead of asking applicants to fill out a lengthy application or show reams of preliminary data, the Gates Foundation only asks for a two-page description of the creative concept. These proposals are then sent to a variety of reviewers, each of whom is instructed to pick a single project to fund. Those projects are then given $100,000.

The end result, says Andrew Serazin, program officer at the Gates Foundation, is that many risky projects have been given a chance to succeed. In the most recent round of applications the funding rate of post-docs and grad students—scientists at the start of their careers—was three times higher than that of their established professors. "One of the tragedies of science is that many of the most talented people with the best ideas don't have access to capital," Mr. Serazin says. "We're trying to fix that."

—Jonah Lehrer is the author of "How We Decide" and "Proust Was a Neuroscientist."

Labels: , ,

The Sanity of Irrational Numbers

Division and Its Discontents

There’s a narrative line that runs through arithmetic, but many of us missed it in the haze of long division and common denominators. It’s the story of the quest for ever-more versatile numbers.

The “natural numbers” 1, 2, 3 and so on are good enough if all we want to do is count, add and multiply. But once we ask how much remains when everything is taken away, we are forced to create a new kind of number — zero — and since debts can be owed, we need negative numbers too. This enlarged universe of numbers called “integers” is every bit as self-contained as the natural numbers, but much more powerful because it embraces subtraction as well.

A new crisis comes when we try to work out the mathematics of sharing. Dividing a whole number evenly is not always possible … unless we expand the universe once more, now by inventing fractions. These are ratios of integers — hence their technical name, “rational numbers.” Sadly, this is the place where many students hit the mathematical wall.

There are many confusing things about division and its consequences, but perhaps the most maddening is that there are so many different ways to describe a part of a whole.

If you cut a chocolate layer cake right down the middle into two equal pieces, you could certainly say that each piece is “half” the cake. Or you might express the same idea with the fraction 1/2, meaning 1 of 2 equal pieces. (When you write it this way, the slash between the 1 and the 2 is a visual reminder that something is being sliced.) A third way is to say each piece is 50 percent of the whole, meaning literally 50 parts out of 100. As if that weren’t enough, you could also invoke decimal notation and describe each piece as 0.5 of the entire cake.

This profusion of choices may be partly to blame for the bewilderment many of us feel when confronted with fractions, percentages and decimals. A vivid example appears in the movie “My Left Foot,” the true story of the Irish writer, painter and poet Christy Brown. Born into a large working-class family, he suffered from cerebral palsy that made it almost impossible for him to speak or control any of his limbs, except his left foot. As a boy he was often dismissed as mentally disabled, especially by his father, who resented him and treated him cruelly.

A pivotal scene in the movie takes place around the kitchen table. One of Christy’s older sisters is quietly doing her math homework, seated next to her father, while Christy, as usual, is shunted off in the corner of the room, twisted in his chair. His sister breaks the silence: “What’s 25 percent of a quarter?” she asks. Father mulls it over. “Twenty-five percent of a quarter? Uhhh … That’s a stupid question, eh? I mean, 25 percent is a quarter. You can’t have a quarter of a quarter.” Sister responds, “You can. Can’t you, Christy?” Father: “Ha! What would he know?”

Writhing, Christy struggles to pick up a piece of chalk with his left foot. Positioning it over a slate on the floor, he manages to scrawl a 1, then a slash, then something unrecognizable. It’s the number 16, but the 6 comes out backwards. Frustrated, he erases the 6 with his heel and tries again, but this time the chalk moves too far, crossing through the 6, rendering it indecipherable. “That’s only a nervous squiggle,” snorts his father, turning away. Christy closes his eyes and slumps back, exhausted.

Aside from the dramatic power of the scene, what’s striking is the father’s conceptual rigidity. What makes him insist you can’t have a quarter of a quarter? Maybe he thinks you can only take a quarter of a whole or of something made of four equal parts. But what he fails to realize is that everything is made of four equal parts. In the case of something that’s already a quarter, its four equal parts look like this:

Since 16 of these thin slices make the original whole, each slice is 1/16 of the whole — the answer Christy was trying to scratch out.

A version of the same kind of mental rigidity, updated for the digital age, made the rounds on the Internet a few years ago when a frustrated customer named George Vaccaro recorded and posted his phone conversation with two service representatives at Verizon Wireless. Vaccaro’s complaint was that he’d been quoted a data usage rate of .002 cents per kilobyte, but his bill showed he’d been charged .002 dollars per kilobyte, a hundredfold higher rate. The ensuing conversation climbed to the top 50 in YouTube’s comedy section.

About halfway through the recording, a highlight occurs in the exchange between Vaccaro and Andrea, the Verizon floor manager:

V: “Do you recognize that there’s a difference between one dollar and one cent?”
A: “Definitely.”
V: “Do you recognize there’s a difference between half a dollar and half a cent?”
A: “Definitely.”
V: “Then, do you therefore recognize there’s a difference between .002 dollars and .002 cents?”
A: “No.”
V: “No?”
A: “I mean there’s … there’s no .002 dollars.”

A few moments later Andrea says, “Obviously a dollar is 1.00, right? So what would .002 dollars look like? I’ve never heard of .002 dollars… It’s just not a full cent.”

The challenge of converting between dollars and cents is only part of the problem for Andrea. The real barrier is her inability to envision a portion of either.

From first-hand experience I can tell you what it’s like to be mystified by decimals. In 8th grade Ms. Stanton began teaching us how to convert a fraction into a decimal. Using long division we found that some fractions give decimals that terminate in all zeroes. For example, 1/4 = .2500…, which can be rewritten as .25, since all those zeroes amount to nothing. Other fractions give decimals that eventually repeat, like

5/6 = .8333…

My favorite was 1/7, whose decimal counterpart repeats every six digits:

1/7 = .142857142857….

The bafflement began when Ms. Stanton pointed out that if you triple both sides of the simple equation

1/3 = .3333…,

you’re forced to conclude that 1 must equal .9999…

At the time I protested that they couldn’t be equal. No matter how many 9’s she wrote, I could write just as many 0’s in 1.0000… and then if we subtracted her number from mine, there would be a teeny bit left over, something like .0000…01.

Like Christy’s father and the Verizon service reps, my gut couldn’t accept something that had just been proven to me. I saw it but refused to believe it. (This might remind you of some people you know.)

But it gets worse — or better, if you like to feel your neurons sizzle. Back in Ms. Stanton’s class, what stopped us from looking at decimals that neither terminate nor repeat periodically? It’s easy to cook up such stomach-churners. Here’s an example:


By design, the blocks of 2 get progressively longer as we move to the right. There’s no way to express this decimal as a fraction. Fractions always yield decimals that terminate or eventually repeat periodically — that can be proven — and since this decimal does neither, it can’t be equal to the ratio of any whole numbers. It’s “irrational.”

Given how contrived this decimal is, you might suppose irrationality is rare. On the contrary, it is typical. In a certain sense that can be made precise, almost all decimals are irrational. And their digits look statistically random.

Once you accept these astonishing facts, everything turns topsy-turvy. Whole numbers and fractions, so beloved and familiar, now appear scarce and exotic. And that innocuous number line pinned to the molding of your grade school classroom? No one ever told you, but it’s chaos up there.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Joe Biden declares Obama Victory in Iraq

It has been observed that when politicians sense the crowd is moving in a certain direction, they rush to the front of the stampede and then claim they are leading the charge. So it seems to be with the latest on Iraq. We are winning. The Iraqis are winning. They are embracing democracy and capitalism. They are embracing heretofore unknown freedom. In other words, it appears the goals of the Bush Administration are in sight. That development, as astonishing as it has been for Democrats, has spurred Biden to credit Obama for the history-making success.

Biden's Diversion Strategy Joe's 'gaffes' have a political logic.

It's easy to pile on Joe Biden. Vice presidents, after all, acquire reputations in Washington they never really shake. Dick Cheney was Darth Vader, and now Joe Biden is the embarrassing uncle you try to keep away from the microphone.

Neither is entirely fair. Still, when Mr. Biden claims success for a victory won by a surge he and Barack Obama opposed, you wonder what he's up to. When this same genius is then dispatched to counter Mr. Cheney on the weekend talk shows, you wonder what the administration is up to.

Start with Mr. Biden's first whopper: telling CNN's Larry King last week that "one of the great achievements of this administration" may well be a democratic Iraq. "You're going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government. . . . I've been impressed how they have been deciding to use the political process rather than guns to settle their differences."

Now, many have jumped on Mr. Biden for claiming this as an Obama achievement. Perhaps more striking, however, is that the same Iraqi government that so impresses him today is something he once declared impossible.

That was back during a Democratic presidential debate in 2007, when Mr. Biden told ABC's George Stephanopoulos it was a "fundamental strategic mistake" to believe "there is any possibility in the lifetime of anyone here of having the Iraqis get together, have a unity government in Baghdad that pulls the country together. That will not happen, George."

Now it has not only happened, but it has happened, like all good things in our world, because of Barack Obama.

On substance, it's a line of argument that is hard to make. It's even harder when your attorney general and your national security adviser are out there admitting major policy goofs. And it's harder still when you send a Biden to do a Cheney's job.

That's what happened this weekend, when the White House deployed the sitting vice president to the talk-show circuit after learning that the former vice president would be appearing on ABC's "This Week." In many ways, it was a rerun of a clash back in May, when the White House hastily added a security-and-values speech in an effort to pre-empt a speech Mr. Cheney was delivering the same day.

My former colleagues in the Bush administration cannot understand why any White House would allow a former vice president to define the debate. One explanation is Mr. Cheney's low approval ratings, which may lead the president's advisers to conclude that they can use him as a foil. The danger is that such matchups by their nature diminish a White House while elevating the challenger.

In this case, the debate also plays to Mr. Cheney's strength.

Americans might not buy everything he says. But Mr. Cheney has a clear and consistent view about how to deal with men who want to kill us. Of late, events have helped make the Obama view a little less coherent.

Look at how Mr. Biden danced around the questions about a civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. On "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation," Mr. Biden said the president would soon make a decision on what to do—never mind that in November Americans had been led to believe we had a decision when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that KSM and four other operatives would be "brought to New York to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks from where the twin towers once stood."

Plainly, Mr. Biden's interlocutors did not find his answers persuasive. They were, however, probably the best the vice president could do at a time when the administration is publicly walking back Mr. Holder's decision. In an interview in yesterday's New York Times, Mr. Holder set up the U-turn: "I think that I make the final call," he said, "but if the president is not happy with that final call, he has the ability to reverse it."

Ditto for Mr. Biden's efforts to reassure Americans about the handling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian caught trying to blow up a Northwest flight. Again, he was playing a weak hand.

The same day Mr. Biden's interviews appeared, National Security Adviser James Jones told "Fox News Sunday" the president had not been well served by the Abdulmutallab case, admitting that the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group should have been operational. He promised to "learn from our experiences."

So go ahead and chuckle over Mr. Biden's "gaffes," if you think he was on television to win an argument. But if you think his assignment was to use a Sunday-show duel to deflect attention from the Obama administration's two big backtrackings on terror, you might want to give Joe a little more credit.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Al Gore -- Hibernating till the snow melts in spring

Sen. Jim DeMint twitters: D.C. snow will continue 'until Al Gore cries uncle'

By Jordan Fabian

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Tuesday used the D.C. snowstorm to make a political jab, saying that it provides evidence for global warming skeptics.

The conservative senator took to Twitter on Tuesday amid reports that the area is due to receive another 10 to 20 inches of snow this week:

It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries "uncle"

Some conservatives have echoed DeMint's sentiments that the snowstorm should poke holes in evidence backing global warming.

DeMint took direct aim at the former vice president, who is one of the foremost proponents of government action to counter global warming.

Reports of more snow caused the House of Representatives to call off the rest of its votes scheduled for this week. The Washington, D.C. area was blanketed with about two feet of snow last weekend, causing the Senate to adjourn Thursday earlier than expected on Thursday.

The South Carolina senator was not the first Republican to use the snowstorm to make a political point. Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) said that absence of votes in the House is a plus for taxpayers.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Never Confuse Gore Vidal's Talent with Brains

Gore Vidal has joined the 9/11 Truthers. He thinks the Bush Administration was behind the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Apparently this is what happens when people are alone with themselves too long. Perhaps his 9/11 infection will spread to his relative -- Al Gore. Yes, they are related, and the distance between them is not large.

Anyway, Vidal is another old writer who won't last much longer. After he croaks, Christopher Hitchens will need a new whipping boy, but given the range of his intellect, he should have no trouble finding a new punching bag.

Hitchens attacks Gore Vidal for being a 'crackpot'

Former protégé takes America's great man of letters to task for adopting 9/11 conspiracy theories

Sunday, 7 February 2010

As literary feuds go it has the all the hallmarks of a classic. In one corner, the journalist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens. In the other, America's great man of letters, Gore Vidal.

The latest salvo is in this month's Vanity Fair where, in an article headlined "Vidal Loco", Hitchens launches a stinging attack on Vidal, claiming that the events of 9/11 "accentuated a crackpot strain" in the author. He claims that Vidal's work after the terrorist attacks consists of "a small anthology of half-argued and half-written shock pieces [which] either insinuated or asserted that the administration had known in advance of the attacks."

"He openly says that the Bush administration was 'probably' in on the 9/11 attacks, a criminal complicity that would 'certainly fit them to a T'; that Timothy McVeigh was 'a noble boy', no more murderous than generals Patton and Eisenhower; and that 'Roosevelt saw to it that we got that war' by inciting the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor," Hitchens writes.

Vidal's reaction to the Vanity Fair article is not yet known. But yesterday, a British academic, who was also criticised by Hitchens, leapt to the author's defence. Dr Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, of Sussex University, described Hitchens' attack as "extraordinarily vitriolic". He claimed there was a "sense of jealousy he never did quite get to Gore's level of literary flair and his almost iconic status. It does seem like a kind of bizarre personal vendetta being carried out on the pages of Vanity Fair, replete with factual inaccuracies and not very much substance."

Dr Ahmed, director of the London-based think tank the Institute for Policy Research and Development, claimed Hitchens failed to contextualise Vidal's comments.

"Hitchens has taken them very literally and Gore is being much more playful and much more provocative," Dr Ahmed said.

Vidal was not trying to absolve the Oklahoma City bomber, McVeigh, he added, but to make people think critically.

Hitchens referred to Dr Ahmed, who wrote The War on Freedom, used by the 9/11 Commission, in the article as a "risible individual wedded to half-baked conspiracy-mongering". Dr Ahmed said he had not suggested there was a conspiracy, rather a "dereliction of duty", and that he used the word "complicity" in a legal sense.

Hitchens wrote that he did not mind Vidal rewriting their personal history, after the American publicly distanced himself from Hitchens, but he did object "to the crank-revisionist and denialist history he is now peddling about everything else".

Hitchens claims in the article that Vidal once wrote to him offering to nominate him as his "dauphin". Such was Hitchens' admiration for Vidal that he asked to use a letter from the 85-year-old author on the jacket of his books. But since the 9/11 attacks he has stopped the practice.

But last October, Vidal told a New York audience: "Hitchens identified himself for many years as the heir to me ... unfortunately, for him, I didn't die."

Hitchens was unavailable for comment.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Global Warming? How About Islamic Warning!

Dismissing existential threats to Western Civilization: It's the only thing many of today's Europeans do better than Jew-hatred

Geert Wilders is today's Winston Churchill in a world full of Neville Chamberlains and Grima Wormtongues, clueless cowards and treasonous snakes typified by people like Rory Graycrow Underclass, who asks in response to the heroic Wilders' warnings to the West regarding its Islamic Enemy Within:

In 1400 years Islam has failed to take over Europe. Why is he so afraid it will happen now?

Such a question betrays a suicidal ignorance of nearly one and one-half millennia of jihad in Europe.

After Muhammad's death, his armies exploded out of Arabia and into the Holy Land, North Africa, Persia, Greater India, etc., nation after nation throughout Africa and Asia falling to Allah's butchers. Formerly Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, animist, and other non-Muslim societies were obliterated, consumed, mutilated, and subsumed by the Religion of Insatiable Bloodlust.

Neither was Europe spared. The fact is, Islamic tyranny in Europe goes back to its beginnings. In the west, Spain fought for eight hundred years to regain its freedom from its Islamic overlords, succeeding finally in 1492. If not for Charles Martel ("The Hammer"), who stopped Islam's advance into France and the heart of Europe at the Battle of Tours/Poitiers in 732, western Europe would have fallen to Allah. (And that would have meant no Michelangelo, no Beethoven, no Isaac Newton, no Albert Einstein, no Christopher Columbus, no George Washington, no Magna Carta, no Mayflower Compact, no Declaration of Independence, no Bill of Rights.)

The coastal areas of the British Isles and the Mediterranean also suffered jihad's depredations, both directly and by proxy. Part of the Vikings' notorious malevolence was due to their contribution to the Islamic slave trade. Italy, Sicily, Greece, and other coastal European regions suffered at the hands of Muslims themselves.

Eastern Europe fared no better than the rest. Turkey is the epitome of why Geert Wilders is concerned about Islam. Before it was forcibly secularized by Kemal Ataturk, Turkey was the Ottoman Empire; before that it was part of Byzantium, the great Christian empire. After centuries of jihad, the Byzantine Empire was overthrown finally in 1453 when its great city Constantinople -- the "Rome of the East" -- and its magnificent church Hagia Sofia -- the jewel of Christendom -- fell to jihad.

And that doesn't include centuries of jihad in the Balkans. Christian boys were kidnapped by Muhammad's monsters, forcibly converted, twisted into devils, and sent back to enslave and slaughter their own people. Forget neither the Siege of Vienna in 1683, where Jan Sobieski repelled the last flagrant attempt by the ummah to conquer Europe.

What does any of that have to do with today? Only this: Islam has not changed, its adherents are rediscovering what their god and prophet require of them, and rather than champions like Charles Martel and Jan Sobieski crushing jihad and halting the Islamization of their homelands, people like Rory Graycrow Underclass import the Religion of Pedophilia, Female Genital Mutilation, and Wife-beating. They implement shari'a courts. They obfuscate for, and punish criticism of, the barbaric ideology.

Why is Geert Wilders "so afraid it will happen now"?

Because it is happening now.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Iran Enters Age of Model Rocketry

For anyone who, as a kid, enjoyed launching Estes model rockets, the latest show from Iran looks like fun. Iranian rocketeers sent a 10-foot missile carrying a rat, two turtles and a can of worms into the sky. However, no one seems to know anything about its payload following the launch. The Iranians claim it was shot into orbit. But that is comical. A 10-foot solid-fuel rocket cannot put a payload into orbit. In fact, it is unlikely the rocket is capable of sending its capsule out of Iran. Forget leaving the atmosphere.

But that's how it goes for muslims. Like Baghdad Bob during the US invasion of Iraq. He manned his radio broadcasting booth, ranting as though the War of the Worlds was underway and Iraq was destroying the invaders. His performance was inspired. A Wizard of Oz showing. But there was nothing unusual about it in the muslim world. That same form of fictional reporting occurs in Palestinian regions of the West Bank every day. Muslims seem to believe every word they hear, that they are under attack by Israeli forces even when they can look out their windows and see a tranquil landscape.

Iran Unveils New Satellite Capabilities on Eve of Revolution

DUBAI—Iran test-fired a new satellite rocket and unveiled a series of what it said were home-grown advances in a space program that has worried Western officials because of possible cross-over applications in the country's weapons program.

In addition to the test-firing, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled on Wednesday three new telecommunications satellites and a new satellite-carrier engine, according to state media.

The test firing comes as the Islamic Republic celebrates its 31st anniversary. Commemorations began earlier this week and culminate on Feb. 11, the day in 1979 that the shah's forces capitulated during the Iranian revolution. During the same commemoration period last year, Iran launched its first domestically made and propelled satellite.

Tehran has long said its space program, like its nuclear program, is aimed at peaceful purposes. Wednesday's rocket carried a capsule of living organisms—a rat, two turtles and worms—into space for experimentation, the state-run English-language Press TV reported.

Iranian claims of technological advances, especially in weapons development, are often viewed skeptically by outside analysts.

Still, the test-firing could raise fresh alarms about Iran's weapons development. Many of the same technologies used in satellite development can be applicable to missile-delivery systems.

The satellite announcement comes a day after Mr. Ahmadinejad surprised many Western observers by suggesting in a televised interview late Tuesday that Tehran no longer objected to a long-stalled nuclear-fuel deal at the heart of current efforts by Western capitals to rein in the country's nuclear ambitions.

Iran Is Ready for Nuclear Deal, Leader Says

Washington is pushing for fresh economic sanctions against Iran after being frustrated by Tehran's response to the draft deal, hammered out between Iran, Western powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency last year. The deal calls for Iran to ship out the bulk of its low-enriched uranium, to be refined overseas and then returned for use in a medical-research reactor. Western officials see the deal as a way of delaying any Iranian effort to develop a nuclear weapon.

After Iranian negotiators agreed to the proposed deal, several Tehran officials spent months criticizing it, and appeared to rule out the deal in its current form in December. But Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments late Tuesday night suggested Tehran's position has changed once again. U.S. officials remain wary, saying that if Iran has agreed to the deal, Tehran should officially notify the IAEA.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's satellite announcement comes after U.S. defense officials disclosed this weekend American efforts to bolster defensive capabilities among its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. It also comes as opposition protesters gird for planned demonstrations on Feb. 11.

Opposition leaders have used state-sanctioned holidays as cover for their antigovernment protests, which first erupted after disputed June 12 presidential elections.

Both sides—the government and the opposition—have hardened their rhetoric recently ahead of Feb. 11. The government has vowed a harsh crackdown and swift justice to demonstrators who turn out. Similar threats, however, failed to deter large-scale protests on Dec. 27, a holy day in Shiite Islam, which saw some of the worst violence since the summer.

Labels: , , ,

Writers' Graveyard Filling Up

Since the start of the year, the world of accomplished writers has been shrinking. A couple of weeks ago Robert B Parker, creator of Spenser, the private eye, died. J.D. Salinger kicked the bucket last week. And so did Louis Auchincloss, one of New York City's true insiders. Herman Wouk is still with us, but he turns 95 this year, suggesting his time is dwindling.

Louis Auchincloss, Chronicler of New York’s Upper Crust, Dies at 92

Louis Auchincloss, a Wall Street lawyer from a prominent old New York family who became a durable and prolific chronicler of Manhattan’s old-money elite, died on Tuesday night in Manhattan. He was 92.

His death, at Lenox Hill Hospital, was caused by complications of a stroke, his son Andrew said. Mr. Auchincloss lived on the Upper East Side.

Although he practiced law full time until 1987, Mr. Auchincloss published more than 60 books of fiction, biography and literary criticism in a writing career of more than a half-century. He was best known for his dozens and dozens of novels about what he called the “comfortable” world, which in the 1930s meant “an apartment or brownstone in town, a house in the country, having five or six maids, two or three cars, several clubs and one’s children in private schools.”

This was the world he came from, and its customs and secrets were his subject from the beginning. He persisted in writing about it, fondly but also trenchantly, long after that world had begun to vanish.

Mr. Auchincloss’s last book, published in 2008, was “The Last of the Old Guard,” and though it was set at the turn of the 20th century, the title in many ways fit the author himself. Mr. Auchincloss had a beaky, patrician nose and spoke with a high-pitched Brahmin accent. He had elegant manners and suits to match, and he wrote in longhand in the living room of an antiques-filled apartment on Park Avenue.

Admirers compared him to other novelists of society and manners like William Dean Howells, but Mr. Auchincloss’s greatest influence was probably Edith Wharton, whose biography he wrote and with whom he felt a direct connection. His grandmother had summered with Wharton in Newport, R.I.; his parents were friends of Wharton’s lawyers. He almost felt he knew Wharton personally, Mr. Auchincloss once said.

Like Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs,” Gore Vidal once wrote. “Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives.”

His detractors complained that Mr. Auchincloss’s writing was glib and superficial, or else that his subject matter was too dated to be of much interest. Writing in The New York Times in 1984, Michiko Kakutani said that while Mr. Auchincloss “is adept enough at portraying the effects of a rarefied milieu on character, his narrative lacks a necessary density and texture.”

“Like the shiny parquet floors of their apartment houses,” she added, “Mr. Auchincloss’s people are just a little too finely polished, a little too tidily assembled.”

The author Bruce Bawer, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said that Mr. Auchincloss had the bad luck to live “in a time when the protagonists of literary fiction tend to be middle- or lower-class.”

“These days,” he added, “the general public, though fascinated by the superficial trappings of privilege, seems to have little interest in the deeper truths with which Mr. Auchincloss is passionately concerned — with, that is, the beliefs, principles, hypocrisies, prejudices and assorted strengths and defects of character that typify the American WASP civilization that produced what was for a long time the country’s undisputed ruling class.”

“Class prejudice” was Mr. Auchincloss’s response to his critics. “That business of objecting to the subject material or the people that an author writes about is purely class prejudice,” he said in an interview in 1997, “and you will note that it always disappears with an author’s death. Nobody holds it against Henry James or Edith Wharton or Thackeray or Marcel Proust.”

Louis Stanton Auchincloss (pronounced AW-kin-kloss) was born on Sept. 27, 1917, in Lawrence, on Long Island, joining an upper-crust clan of Auchinclosses, Dixons, Howlands and Stantons. Since 1803, when Hugh Auchincloss left Paisley, Scotland, to establish a New York branch of the family dry goods business, the families all lived in Manhattan — all with money, all with high social positions.

Louis was the third of four children of Priscilla Stanton and Joseph Howland Auchincloss, who, like his father, was a Wall Street lawyer; he was also a third cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Louis was a cousin by marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who worked with him when she was a book editor later in life.)

Born Into Money

Mr. Auchincloss grew up in a world of town houses, summer homes on Long Island and Bar Harbor, Me., private clubs and servants, debutante parties and travel abroad. Yet as a child he thought of himself as neither rich nor aristocratic.

“Like most children of affluence,” he said in his 1974 autobiography, “A Writer’s Capital,” “I grew up with a distinct sense that my parents were only tolerably well off. This is because children always compare their families with wealthier ones, never with poorer. I thought I knew perfectly well what it meant to be rich in New York. If you were rich, you lived in a house with a pompous beaux-arts facade and kept a butler and gave children’s parties with spun sugar on the ice cream and little cups of real silver as game prizes. If you were not rich you lived in a brownstone with Irish maids who never called you Master Louis and parents who hollered up and down the stairs instead of ringing bells.”

He attended the Bovee School for Boys on Fifth Avenue and entered the Groton School in Massachusetts in 1929. Unathletic and unpopular, he found Groton a difficult place at first with its punishments, its cold New England weather, its compulsory cold showers and its emphasis on sports. Gradually, he earned his place. His first short stories were published in the school magazine, the Grotonian, of which he became editor.

Enrolling at Yale in 1935, he also wrote stories for its school magazine and yearned for a literary life. When he visited his father’s law offices, he said, “those dark narrow streets and those tall, sooty towers” filled him with gloom. At Yale he made Phi Beta Kappa and while a junior completed a novel modeled on “Madame Bovary,” about a New York socialite. The book was rejected by Scribner’s, and he rashly decided “that a man born to the responsibilities of a brownstone bourgeois world could only be an artist or writer if he were a genius.” So he dropped out of Yale before his senior year and entered the University of Virginia law school.

To his surprise he found he liked the law, particularly estates law, and in 1941, after earning a law degree, he joined the Wall Street firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. When World War II began Mr. Auchincloss enlisted in the Navy. He served in Naval intelligence, then commanded a craft that shuttled troops and the wounded across the English Channel during the Normandy invasion.

After the invasion he was sent to the Pacific and while onboard a ship to Japan wrote another novel, only to throw it in the trash. He finally began his writing career with “The Indifferent Children,” a novel published by Prentice-Hall in 1947 after he had returned to Sullivan & Cromwell. It appeared under the pseudonym Andrew Lee, in deference to his mother, who thought the book “trivial and vulgar” and feared it would damage his career.

But the novel received favorable reviews and encouraged him to keep writing while also practicing law. “I think my secret is to use bits and fractions of time,” he said in his 1997 interview. “I trained myself to do that. Anybody can do it. I could write sitting in surrogate’s court answering calendar call.”

His short stories were soon appearing under his own name in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Esquire and other magazines. They were collected in “The Injustice Collectors,” published in 1950 by Houghton Mifflin, which also brought out the rest of his fiction.

A Lawyer and an Author

In 1951 Mr. Auchincloss resigned from Sullivan & Cromwell, underwent psychoanalysis “to find out, once and for all, who I am,” as he said in his autobiography, and began writing full time. Three years later he returned to the law, joining Hawkins, Delafield & Wood, another Wall Street firm, where he specialized in trusts and estates, a white-shoe specialty that deals exclusively with private individuals. He became a partner and remained at Hawkins, Delafield until he retired in 1987. He wrote that at some point he stopped thinking of himself as a lawyer or a writer.

“I was simply doing what I was doing when I did it,” he explained.

“The Rector of Justin” (1964), which was a best seller and a finalist for the National Book Award, is regarded by many critics as Mr. Auchincloss’s best and most important novel. Its protagonist is Frank Prescott, the headmaster of a New England boys’ school before the war, a man of intellect and idealism who could be noble, generous and kind but also, by turns, cruel, callous and arbitrary. Many readers assumed Prescott to be Endicott Peabody, founder of the Groton School and a great educator of his day. But Mr. Auchincloss said it was as much a portrait of the federal judge Learned Hand, whom Mr. Auchincloss regarded as the greatest man he had known.

Mr. Auchincloss earned praise for his 1966 novel “The Embezzler,” another best seller. But in writing it he was also accused of disloyalty to his class by portraying its failings and decline through the story of a Wall Street embezzler of the 1930s. Members of the Whitney family were said to have tried to dissuade him from publishing the book, which drew on the case of Richard Whitney, a president of the New York Stock Exchange who went to prison for misappropriating funds from, among other places, the New York Yacht Club.

There was an element of moral judgment in all of Mr. Auchincloss’s fiction. An individual’s need to stand up to convention was an early theme, as in “The Romantic Egoists” (1954); guilt-driven self-destruction was another, as in “The Great World and Timothy Colt” (1956), the first of many novels about upper-crust lawyers.

More recently “The Education of Oscar Fairfax” (1995) tells a partly autobiographical story about a well-born Social Register type who abandons his dream of a literary career to join his father’s law firm. “East Side Story” (2004) traces a family not unlike the Auchinclosses from the Civil War to the war in Vietnam.

Among his many other novels were “The House of Five Talents” (1960), “Portrait in Brownstone” (1962), “A World of Profit” (1968), “Honorable Men” (1985), “Diary of a Yuppie” (1986) and “The Headmaster’s Dilemma” (2007).

Mr. Auchincloss also published numerous collections of short stories and literary essays as well as biographies. (Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were subjects.) And he edited many works that reflected his concerns with power, class and money in America; among these were “An Edith Wharton Reader,” “The Vanderbilt Era” and “J. P. Morgan: The Financier as Collector.”

A Leader in Civic Life

Mr. Auchincloss was a man of the city he knew so intimately, serving as president and chairman of the Museum of the City of New York and chairman of the City Hall Restoration Committee. He was a fixture at the Century Association and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, where he also served as president.

In 2005 President George W. Bush presented him with the National Medal of Arts.

His wife, Adele Lawrence Auchincloss, an artist, environmentalist and former deputy administrator of the New York City Parks and Recreation Department, died in 1991. Besides his son Andrew, of Manhattan, he is survived by two other sons, John, of Weston, Conn., and Blake, of Hingham, Mass; a brother, Howland, of Cazenovia, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.

Even near the end of his life, Mr. Auchincloss said the influence of his class had not waned. “I grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in a nouveau riche world, where money was spent wildly, and I’m still living in one!,” he told The Financial Times in 2007. “The private schools are all jammed with long waiting lists; the clubs — all the old clubs — are jammed with long waiting lists today; the harbors are clogged with yachts; there has never been a more material society than the one we live in today.”

“Where is this ‘vanished world’ they talk about?” he asked. “I don’t think the critics have looked out the window!”

Labels: , , ,

Katie Couric -- Industrial-Strength Job Killer

Is the news somehow better when you hear it from Katie Couric? Does her delivery change reality? Does she make bad medicine go down more easily? Really? Does her image on TV add value to a news program? Frankly, there is NO WAY her presence matters. On the other hand, as the following articles states, her extraordinary salary is enough to pay 200 reporters $75,000 a year. Thus, she's a one-woman wrecking crew when it comes to causing unemployment among journalists. The only option is to fire her. And the other networks should smarten up and fire their over-paid talking heads too.


Wed Feb 03 2010

CBSNEWS anchorwoman and 60 MINUTES contributor Katie Couric faces a dramatic pay cut at the network, insiders tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

CBS boss Les Moonves is determined to save money and trim expenses -- from top to bottom -- at the former crown jewel of broadcasting.

Couric, the highest paid TV news personality in history, commands over $14 million a year, plus bumps for non-EVENING NEWS appearances.

But her salary is now in the direct line of fire, network insiders explain, and a populist backlash against Couric's cash is said to be forming inside the newsroom.

"She makes enough to pay 200 news reporters $75,000 a year!" demands a veteran producer. "It's complete insanity."

The angry source continues: "We report with great enthusiasm how much bankers are making, how it is out of step with reality during a recession. We'll, look at Katie!"


Couric's $300,000 a week paycheck has become the obsession of disgruntled CBS staff, just as deep layoffs rock the fishbowl.

Dozens of employees -- including staff members in D.C., San Francisco, Miami, London, Los Angeles and Moscow -- are being let go, the NEW YORK OBSERVER reports.

Couric's current CBS contract expires next year.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather called on President Barack Obama to form a White House commission to help save the press. Tears welled in the lifelong reporter’s eyes as he discussed the dwindling number of war correspondents.

Monday, February 01, 2010

It's that VooDoo that You Do

Based on the following comments from Haiti's supreme master of voodoo, it looks as though the country has little chance of overcoming its deep and troubling problems. The misery, poverty, backwardness and despair will remain the defining characteristics of this nation.

Haiti earthquake: voodoo high priest claims aid monopolised by Christians

Haiti's voodoo high priest has claimed believers have been discriminated against by evangelical Christians who are monopolising aid sent to the earthquake-stricken country.

By Nick Allen in Port-au-Prince
Published: 01 Feb 2010

Max Beauvoir, Haiti's "supreme master" of voodoo, alleged his faith's opponents had deliberately prevented much-needed help from reaching followers of the religion, which blends the traditional beliefs of West African slaves with Roman Catholicism.

"The evangelicals are in control and they take everything for themselves," he claimed. "They have the advantage that they control the airport where everything is stuck. They take everything they get to their own people and that's a shame.

"Everyone is suffering the same and has the same needs. We are not asking for anything more than anyone else. We're just asking for it to be fair."

Mr Beauvoir, 75, a Sorbonne-educated biochemist, spoke as a first convoy of aid arrived at his home in Mariani, a town just outside Port-au-Prince. It contained 400 sacks of rice from the World Food Programme and was mobbed by hundreds of hungry voodoo believers.

"It is the first delivery and it took a couple of weeks fight to get that for the voodoo people," said Mr Beauvoir.

At the weekend hundreds of voodoo houngans, or priests, gathered in the northern town of Gonaives to plan how to react to the earthquake that left an estimated 200,000 people dead on Jan 12.

Following the earthquake the US television evangelist Pat Roberston said Haiti made a "pact with the devil" 200 years ago when it defeated French colonists.

"I don't know much about him and I don't think I'm losing much," said Mr Beauvoir. "Voodoo as been discriminated against for 200 years.

"It was developed by our ancestors, it is a way of life. To ask us to stop would be like asking an American to stop heating hamburgers."

He also rejected the idea that voodoo consists of human sacrifices and sticking pins in dolls.

"That's Hollywood voodoo," he said. "No-one from Hollywood has ever sent an anthropologist to study voodoo in Haiti."

In Haitian voodoo, God is supreme and is not involved in human affairs.

Believers instead worship hundreds of spirits called lwa. Other beliefs include that trees have spirits.

As she waited for rice from the WFP Monique Henri, 36 wore a cross round her neck but she also believes in voodoo. She said she had an image of Ogu Feri , the voodoo god of metal and fire, at her home .

"The earthquake happened because people were sinners so God was angry, because people did wrong," she said..

Clavarus Filisca, 72, a houngan, invokes the spirit of Jambe Male to heal people of fevers, headaches and other maladies. "Voodoo is the most important religion. It's natural, it's everywhere," he said.

Mr Beauvoir rejected the suggestion that the earthquake was an act of God. He says it was a natural event but many voodoo followers still believe it was a punishment.

Christians have also been inundating radio stations asking anyone who has committed a crime to confess, thereby saving the nation from future disasters.

Inspiration, an evangelical station, said 11,000 people had rung up to pledge themselves to God since the earthquake.

Missionaries equating voodoo with devil worship have long tried to convert the population of Haiti but the religion, a mixture of Christianity and animism, remains ingrained. Like Christianity it has one God but incorporates pagan elements such as spell casting and calling spirits.

Mr Beauvoir’s grand house, the Peristyle de Mariani, is a voodoo temple where followers dance around a totem pole in the grounds to the sound of drums. Bonfires are lighted to attract spirits and the blood of animals, including goats and chickens, is drained and used to heal the sick.

However, since the earthquake, he has halted all ceremonies. “This is a big shock for people to absorb,” he said. Voodoo ceremonies are still going on in the countryside.

The elaborate ceremonies include secret languages, people dancing after being possessed by spirits and talismans including dried animal heads.

In rural areas there are said to be people who practice the darker side of voodoo, summoning evil spirits. However, practitioners argue that voodoo is a force for good.

Kompe Filo, one of the most popular TV and radio personalities in Haiti, and a vocal believer, said voodoo predicted the earthquake six months ago.

He said: “God is angry against humanity, not just Haiti but all humanity. This is a message that man must change, and reconnect with the natural world around him.

“We have a lot of beliefs modern people should believe in. For example we believe that trees have spirits which we should not harm otherwise we will all suffer.”

Labels: , , ,